SaskPower is seeking a solar plant that would cover 1.5 sections of land near Estevan. Where, exactly, has not yet been revealed. Photo licensed to Brian Zinchuk via Storyblocks

REGINA, ESTEVAN – On April 27, SaskPower announced it was looking for proposals to build a 100 megawatt grid-scale solar farm in the Estevan area, in addition to the completion and implementation of two major wind projects.

Located near Assiniboia, the Golden South Wind Facility was constructed by Potentia Renewables, who owns and operates the facility. Golden South uses 50 turbines to generate up to 200 megawatts (MW) of emissions-free power. The Blue Hill Wind Facility is located near Herbert, and is made up of 35 turbines, producing 175 MW. Algonquin Power & Utilities Corp. constructed, owns and operates Blue Hill. Both Algonquin and Potentia will sell the power produced at these facilities to SaskPower as part of 25-year power purchase agreements.

Pipeline Online asked some pretty detailed questions, and it took a few days to get a response. SaskPower spokesperson Joel Cherry responded by email.

Where

Asked where, specifically, is this solar plant near Estevan expected to be built, Cherry replied, “Details of the specific land location will be provided when the RFQ is released in the coming months.”

It is expected to require 1.5 sections of land. He did not say if will be built on reclaimed land that was previously mined for coal.

Endurance for solar

As for the life expectancy of this solar facility, Cherry said, “SaskPower will enter into a 25-year Power Purchase Agreement to secure the output from the facility.”

A few years ago, Estevan had a major hail storm that not only caused major damage around the city, it also took out Boundary Dam Power Station. A few years earlier, Estevan had Loonie-sized hail. Asked what happens if a similar hail storm hits this solar facility, Cherry replied, “The risk and consequence of damage to the solar facility from a hailstorm will be something that the developer of the facility will need to consider. It would be best to contact the Canadian Renewable Energy Association or other solar developers for more specific information about hail damage risk.”

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As for much money do you expect this solar plant to cost, if any of its operation subsidized by way of a feed-in tariff, or if the power purchase agreement be based on market rates without subsidies of any form, it sounds a lot different than what Ontario did in its major solar implementation several years ago.

Cherry said, “SaskPower is working with federal government agencies to incorporate federal funding into the competition to reduce the overall cost of power from the facility. The cost of power from the facility will be determined through a competitive process.

Alberta comparison for solar and wind

Alberta’s electrical grid has a website that posts, by the minute, the power output of every facility connected to the grid, including solar and wind. That information can be found at http://ets.aeso.ca/ets_web/ip/Market/Reports/CSDReportServlet. SaskPower does not currently provide such information on its website, except to offer an overall power output for the entire utility, found at https://www.saskpower.com/Our-Power-Future/Our-Electricity/Electrical-System/System-Map. For instance, at 2:25 p.m. on Wednesday, May 4, SaskPower’s system load was 2756 megawatts.

Its total grid capacity, if every wind turbine is at full power, the sun is shining on all solar facilities, hydro electric dams were at capacity, nothing is down for maintenance and all peaking units are running is 5,010 megawatts. SaskPower’s highest recorded peak load was 3,868 megawatts on Dec. 29, 2021.

SaskPower’s load for the entire province at 2:55 pm. on May 4, 2022. SaskPower

Similarly, looking to Alberta, at 3:47 p.m. on April 28, this is what the Alberta grid was generating.

Alberta’s power grid at 3:47 p.m. on April 28, 2022. AESO

Asked if SaskPower would provide similar information to the public that Alberta does, Cherry said, “SaskPower is currently reviewing ways to provide additional information about the grid specifically in terms of renewables generation. The major difference between Alberta and Saskatchewan is Alberta operates a deregulated open market. Saskatchewan’s electric utility is a vertically integrated system that has the responsibility for planning the system expansions to meet domestic demands, maintain system reliability at a stable, reasonable cost rather than the whim of the market. Due to this difference, displaying real-time market sensitive information would put Saskatchewan rate payers at a significant disadvantage when looking for opportunities to supply domestic load over the tie lines during periods of potential internal shortfall due to unforeseen outages or to displace internal generation during times where external market may provide short-term economic options.”

On April 28, Alberta solar was supplying the grid with 206 megawatts of an installed base of 892 MW, or 23 per cent capacity. Wind was producing 196 of 2269 megawatts, or 8.6 per cent capacity. These are on much larger installed solar and wind bases and across more diversified area. Notably, April 28 was not a day of -30 C weather.

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Asked how will Saskatchewan’s investment into solar and wind be considered successful if we get similar performance here, Cherry replied, “Generally speaking, we expect a capacity factor of 25 per cent for solar and 40 per cent for wind. In addition, solar power is most productive during the summer, and wind power is at its greatest availability in Saskatchewan during the winter months.”

 

“SaskPower’s wind generation fleet averages about 40 per cent of nameplate capacity. Natural gas is a baseload generation source, meaning it is available regardless of environmental conditions, and so availability is higher than intermittent sources. SaskPower deploys a balanced mix of intermittent and baseload generation to provide reliable, sustainable and affordable electricity for customers.

The expectation is that the wind facilities will produce roughly 40 per cent of total capacity on a long-term basis.

Alberta’s grid site revealed site that on January 5, Alberta’s total combined wind and solar output was just 3 megawatts, or 1/10th of 1 per cent of the total installed base. So what happens if Saskatchewan’s greatly expanded solar and wind facilities end up with similar performance, on some of the coldest nights of the year?

Cherry said, “These are intermittent generation sources by nature and the output can vary from almost nil to full capacity depending on conditions. One benefit of adding both wind and solar is that emissions free power will be available for example on sunny, calm days, or windy nights.

SaskPower crews were working west of Estevan on April 26, restoring power days after a major blizzard. Photo by Brian Zinchuk

 

“SaskPower forecasts both supply and demand side variability and regulates its generation fleet to ensure adequate generation is available regardless of conditions. Flexibility is built into the provincial grid to allow us to effectively respond to changes in availability, and facilities such as natural gas plants can quickly be ramped up to provide additional power as needed.”

Does Saskatchewan have sufficient natural gas power generation that can spool up and down quickly to match the high variability of wind and solar?

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“In addition to its existing natural gas-fired facilities, SaskPower is currently building the Great Plains Power Station to help support renewable generation. Because it’s a natural gas facility it can ramp up and down 24/7 and act as a support to all the wind and solar coming online. Very soon we’ll also start construction on our first battery energy storage system in Regina. Once built, it’ll be capable of powering 20 MW for up to one hour.”

BD4 is still needed, for now

Boundary Dam Unit 4 (BD4) was supposed to be retired last December. However, SaskPower kept it avaible, just in case, and that was needed early this year. To that end, Cherry said, “BD4 is still available on standby until next spring. BD4’s status will be re-evaluated prior to April 2023 to determine whether it will be retired at that time or if the layup status will be extended further. BD5 is still scheduled to be decommissioned in late 2024.”

More wind development coming

A large wind farm went up just across the border, south of Estevan, in recent years. Does SaskPower anticipate similar wind development on this side of the border?

“SaskPower has recently awarded the 200 MW Bekevar wind facility which will be located in southeastern Saskatchewan,” he said.

That project, announced June 17, 2021, was awarded to Renewable Energy Systems (RES) Canada and Awasis Nehiyawewini Energy Development, a wholly owned Cowessess First Nation entity.

The Golden Prairie wind farm near Assiniboia. Photo by Brian Zinchuk

 

Set to be constructed north of Moose Mountain Provincial Park in the RM of Hazelwood, the RM of Kingsley and on Cowessess First Nation reserve land, the Bekevar Wind Energy Project will supply 200 megawatts (MW) of zero-emissions power, enough to serve up to 100,000 homes, the company said in its initial announcement last June.

The two new wind facilities, Blue Hill and Golden Prairie “have just recently completed full commissioning but thus far they are operating within expected parameters,” Cherry said, in response to a question about how much time over the course of a year the current wind power fleet produces in relation to their nameplate capacity.

With regards to the price for the new wind power electricity, and if a feed-in tariff is involved, he said, “The Golden South and Blue Hill power projects were all selected through a competitive process which determines the market rate per megawatt-hour delivered to the SaskPower grid. Future solicitations for additional wind power will follow a similar process.”

 

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